How does body image affect our travel experience?
As the groundswell of the #bodypositive movement grows, I’ve been thinking a lot about how body image intersects with travel, and how a poor body image can even stunt the transformational travel experience.
The voices are sometimes brutal. At least, they are in my head. (Are they as brutal in yours, too?)
They’ve kept me from putting on a bathing suit and jumping in. They’ve kept me from being in the moment. They’ve made me insecure and distracted. They’ve caused me to bow out of photos in beautiful places.
Worst of all, they’ve pulled my attention away from the actual travel experience.
I have been dining in Paris, drinking a lovely red wine, self-conscious about how my stomach spills over my waistband. There is something fundamentally screwed up with that.
Decades ago in college, after starving and puking and long-distance running my way to a size that still didn’t quiet the voices, I vowed that I would never do that to myself again. Of course, that did nothing to quiet the voices. And there’s nothing anyone could say that would turn down the volume, either.
It doesn’t seem to matter how smart or accomplished or well-traveled we are, body image is baggage we carry with us. And that excess baggage comes at a terribly high cost.
My guess is, self esteem and body issues come into play for a lot of us while traveling. Maybe body image has kept some of us from ever traveling in the way our heart wants to, at all.
I can immediately call to mind countless people who either have fad dieted or fasted before traveling or are waiting to travel on a dream trip until they “lose the weight.” One ate cabbage soup for a couple of weeks. One dieted for months just to lose 10 pounds. You think they stopped thinking about it once the trip started? I’d bet not.
Maybe it’s a byproduct of living in a society where our bodies are treated like public property: things to be whistled at from the sidelines, stared at in magazines or online, leered at in the office, judged and regulated and covered up and publicly shamed, online and off.
Yeah, that could be part of it.
Maybe it’s also a result of being told our whole lives that we are fundamentally flawed. Because only when we see ourselves as broken or problematic can we be sold products by companies that promise to fix us. If you don’t believe that your skin should be tan, your lips should be redder, your lashes should be longer, your cheeks should be pinker, your grays should be hidden…well, what reason would you have to go to the cosmetics department?
If you didn’t believe your waist needed whittling and your butt needed boosting and your chest needs minimizing or lifting or padding, companies that sell foundation garments would go out of business.
There are entire industries that depend on perpetual human insecurity to keep them profitable.
Here in the states, white women buy bronzer. In Asia, women buy skin lightening products made by the very same companies. I’ve seen it in person! It seems no matter who we are or what we look like, our bodies need fixing to meet a standard of beauty that is always just beyond reach.
Maybe this is the final frontier for body image: to burn down this house of lies.
Things are shifting; I can see it. My niece posted about this very topic on her Instagram (see the beginning of this post). And another niece has a canvas that she picked herself, hanging in her room. These are the voices we need to hear in our heads.
And online, body-positive women who are gifted in the bust or bigger than Twiggy are gaining a following of others who find it refreshing to see themselves represented.
And it’s inspired me, too.
After decades of hating this flesh prison I’m in, this meat suit I’ve been issued, somehow I’ve moved past it.
I hope it lasts.
I don’t know for sure what changed. Call me strange, but I think the shift happened when my appendix burst on July 2.
Because while looking at my medical records, I found out that as poison was leaking into my gut, threatening to kill me with sepsis, my body was building a sac made of fat stranding around my appendix to contain it.
My body, which I had hated on for so many years, was trying to save me.
WITH MY FAT.
Within a month of this incident, I bought the first bikini I’ve worn in 35 years. Scratch that, I bought three.
My appendix surgery scars and breast biopsy scars and stretch marks show when I wear them. And so does my beautiful Buddha belly.
And when I fly to Portugal on Sunday, I’m taking one of those bikinis with me.
I hope your appendix doesn’t have to burst before you see the wonder and beauty and miracle of your body.
Forget the haters. Screw the profiteers and opportunists. Ignore the voices. And go straight to self-love.
We are all absolutely perfect in our imperfection.
So buy the bikini and the ticket and the rollerbag….and go.
And you drink that wine, girlfriend! And you eat with a hunger you didn’t know you had, and you collect those passport stamps and you pose for those pictures in the gorgeous places you visit.
And challenge yourself to be present to the experience you traveled so far to have.
Because in spite of whatever those vicious, pathologically lying voices might be telling you…YOU, dear traveler, are beautiful.
More beautiful than any destination you’ll ever visit.
More wondrous than the world’s many wonders.
You’re a gorgeous spirit, living out a human experience on a vast and exciting planet.
You’re perfect. Wherever you are in your journey.
So be bold. Be borderless. Go.
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning features, food and travel writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog, she applies her worldview to her business, Rollerbag Goddess Global Communications, providing powerful storytelling to her clients.
Posts on the Rollerbag Goddess travel blog are never sponsored and have no affiliate links, so you know you will get an honest review, every time.
Find Charish on Twitter: @rollrbaggoddess, on Facebook at @rollrbaggoddess, and on Instagram at @rollerbaggoddess. You can also read more about Charish Badzinski’s professional experience in marketing, public relations and writing.
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.